Homogenous dispersion and strong interfacial bonding are prerequisites for taking full advantage of the mechanical properties of nanotubes in a composite. In order to simultaneously achieve both conditions, a highly efficient and mechanically non-destructive functionalization of nanotubes is developed. With fluoronanotubes as the precursor, asymmetric diamine molecules, N-BOC-1,6-diaminohexane, are used to replace fluorines on the wall of fluoronanotubes and construct covalent bonding to the surface of the nanotubes. A BOC de-protection reaction is conducted and the resulting exposed amino groups create strong covalent bonds with the matrix in the course of epoxy ring-opening etherification and curing chemical reactions. In comparison with the conventional functionalization based on symmetric diamine molecules, the functionalized nanotubes derived from the BOC-protected diamine molecule are more dispersed within the epoxy matrix. Dynamic mechanical analysis shows that the functionalized nanotubes have better crosslinking with the matrix. The composites reinforced by the nanotubes demonstrate improvement in various mechanical properties. The Young’s Modulus, ultimate tensile strength, and storage modulus of composites loaded with 0.5 wt% functionalized nanotubes are enhanced by 30%, 25%, and 10%, respectively, compared with the neat epoxy. The increase of the glass transition temperature, as much as 10 °C, makes the composites suited for engineering applications under higher temperatures. The new functionalization method allows for an competitive enhancement in the composite performance in use of relatively low cost raw nanotubes at a small loading level. The reinforcement mechanism of the functionalized nanotubes in the epoxy resin is discussed.
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